May 10, 2013
In the history of U.S. military research, there’s never been a project with such a combination of big science, high sleaze, and pure conspiratorial strangeness. Yet somehow, some way, the story of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP, just got sleazier and stranger — all thanks to an elderly physicist named Alfred Wong.
Wong was an early proponent of HAARP, who used the facility in his studies of the ionosphere, the electrically-charged portion of the atmosphere. He also was something of a serial con man, according to a federal plea agreement provided to Danger Room. (.pdf) On Thursday, Wong agreed to pay nearly $1.7 million in damages for falsely billing Darpa and the Interior Department. He also plead guilty to a host of fraud charges.
HAARP was originally pitched back in the Cold War as a way for plasma physicists to study the ionosphere by blasting it with radio frequency emissions. If you build this series of RF antennas in remote Alaska, the scientists told the Pentagon, HAARP wound not only advance our understanding of this crucial field. It could also be used to fry incoming Soviet missiles and spy on underground bunkers. One physicist working for the Arco oil-and-gas conglomerate even suggested that HAARP could be used to weaponize hurricanes — that is, if Arco’s natural gas fields were used to power the thing.
But the Pentagon was only partially interested. So instead the scientists — including a UCLA physics professor Alfred Wong — sought out Ted Stevens, an Alaska senator with a legendary soft spot for pet projects. “He provided some congressional money, some pork money,” one of the scientists later told me for a 2009 WIRED magazine story. “It was much less than the bridge to nowhere.”
With Stevens’ help, HAARP was eventually built, and physicists began doing some rather fascinating research there. But when those early ideas about HAARP’s potential military uses came out — hoo boy, the tinfoil hat crowd went berserk, and stayed that way for a very long time.
Everything from the Haiti earthquake to Hurricane Katrina was blamed on HAARP’s dark weather-manipulated powers. People swore that the Alaskan antenna array was controlling their minds. A Russian military journal warned that blasting the ionosphere would cause the planet to “capsize.” Leading the charge was a one-time gemologist, miner, school supervisor, Chickaloon tribal administrator, and mind-control lecturer named Nick Begich, who just happened to be the brother of Stevens’ eventual successor, Sen. Mark Begich.
Through it all, Wong continued to do research at HAARP and at a neighboring facility called the High Power Auroral Stimulation Observatory, or HIPAS. And over the years, he claimed that he had no idea where people got those crazy notions about HAARP. (Although he occasionally floated ideas himself about hacking the planet and controlling the climate.) Wong swore he had no idea why Sen. Stevens, after their meeting together, kept insisting that HAARP would be able to harness the aurora borealis to bring a new, unlimited source of power to the planet. “There’s a current flowing up there that you can modulate, and make some waves,” Wong told the Washington Post in 1991. “[I] have never claimed it was a way of taking energy to the ground.”
Perhaps Wong was telling the truth then. But it appears he has been less than forthright in his dealings with the government more recently. On Thursday, Wong plead guilty to federal fraud charges for submitting bogus invoices to U.S. government agencies.